Pitt's Donald finds impact muted versus Bowling Green
DETROIT — Redemption is sweet.
Pitt was coming off an electrifying 54-yard punt return touchdown from freshman receiver Tyler Boyd that gave it a 17-3 lead over Bowling Green with less than seven minutes remaining in the first half Thursday in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
And the Panthers were on the cusp of regaining the ball when sophomores Nick Grigsby and Darryl Render sacked Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson on third-and-7.
But away from the play, Pitt All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald was caught jamming his hands into the face of a Falcons offensive lineman. He was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which resulted in an automatic first down for Bowling Green.
With new life, Johnson found senior tight end Alex Bayer across the middle of the field for a 29-yard touchdown seven plays later on a fourth-and-1 with under two minutes to play before halftime, cutting Pitt's lead to 17-10.
Just like that, the Falcons' seized momentum. But then Donald had his moment.
With less than a minute remaining in the game, he drilled Johnson for an 11-yard sack, forcing a third-and-31. The clinching sack sealed Donald's selection as Defensive Lineman of the Game.
However, it was mostly a frustrating game for Donald. He occasionally had his opportunities to work one-on-one against the Bowling Green's offensive line, but those were rare.
Donald was double-teamed most of the game, especially in the first half. Senior offensive linemen Dominic Flewellyn and David Kekuewa handled the bulk of the responsibilities. Donald finished the first half with two tackles.
Grigsby, senior Tyrone Ezell and freshman defensive lineman Shakir Soto led the Panthers with two sacks apiece, and Pitt had seven total.
Donald was arguably the nation's most tenacious defender this season and was certainly the most decorated. The senior won the Nagurski (defensive player of the year), Lombardi (lineman of the year), Outland (outstanding interior lineman) and Bednarik (outstanding defensive player) awards.
John Manzo is a freelance writer.